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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Lobbies France on Warship

ReutersA French helicopter carrier docked in St. Petersburg’s Neva River on Thursday, ahead of a possible sale to the Navy.

PARIS — Georgia is very worried about the possible sale of French warships to Russia and intends to press the issue of security guarantees in France, the country's foreign minister said Thursday.

"Georgia needs security guarantees" for the long-term, Grigol Vashadze said on the sidelines of a speech Thursday at the French International Relations Institute, IFRI, in Paris. He is to meet with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner later in the day.

Vashadze's visit to Paris coincides with the public display in St. Petersburg of the Mistral amphibious assault vessel, which can carry 16 helicopters and has worried the country's neighbors who fear that Russia may use such ships to bully them.

It also coincides with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's visit to Paris.

Georgia, which fought a five-day war with Russia last August, fears that the warships could be deployed off its western coastal waters.

"The only destination of this kind of ship is the Black Sea," Vashadze told a gathering of diplomats and international affairs experts at IFRI. "The consequences might be devastating. … We are tremendously worried," he said, adding that Georgia "simply would like to understand why Russia would need such an assault vessel."

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet was quoted in French media as saying this week that his country wanted to ensure that if the sale went through, the vessel would be delivered without top technology on board.

France and Russia have not signed a deal on delivery of the ships, but the possible sale has raised eyebrows in France as well.

Andre Glucksmann, a leading French philosopher, said in an editorial in Le Monde on Thursday that it was "regrettable" that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was "cheaply selling off our principles of humanity for hypothetical contracts."

Vashadze said Georgia's long-term strategy now was "to forget about Russia" and concentrate on developing strong ties with the European Union and NATO in order to become a source of stability in the Caucasus region.

"The less Russia we have, the better," Vashadze said.

He said he would be seeking French support to keep Georgia high on the international agenda, as well as support for greater international investment in Georgia. He insisted that his country would pursue a two-track policy to join both NATO and the EU, without giving one or the other priority.

"We are actively working in both directions," Vashadze said.